RED HEAVEN: Reaching for the Stars with Your Feet on the Ground

Before we can travel to Mars, we must understand ourselves on Earth

To viewers watching it right now, Red Heaven feels like an unwelcome piece of “art-imitating-life.” We’ve spent most of 2020 in some form of quarantine, so the prospect of watching six people spend one year in isolation sounds like gallows humor. In both instances, the isolation is at the behest, and benefit, of science and humans writ large. We’re doing what we can right now in the name of survival and in one of the world’s (and the United States’ most trying moments, the subjects at the heart of Red Heaven are building toward one of mankind’s greatest achievements: traveling to Mars. However, if humans are going to survive on another planet, first we have to survive on this one. Red Heaven has a catchy premise, but the heart of the movie revolves around our basic humanity and how we coexist.

On August 28th, 2015, six people from all over the world embarked on the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation IV, or HI-SEAS for short, to simulate living on Mars for one year. Their goal was to carry out routine tasks that will, theoretically, face the people who eventually travel to the Red Planet. The crew is Chief Medical Officer Sheyna, Soil Scientist Carmel, Chief Scientific Officer Christiane, Chief Engineering Officer Andrzej, Astrobiologist Cyprien, and Space Architect Tristan. The crew worked together and individually, and Red Heaven directors Lauren DeFilippo and Katherine Gorringe get some interesting footage of everyone in action. The doc is light on science stuff, and primarily focuses on the other key element of the study: how will these people get along and maintain their sanity for a year?

For the most part, the struggles of the HI-SEAS IV crew are about what you would assume for people living together in tight quarters. They’re crammed into a 1,200sqft domicile, so privacy doesn’t exist. Even if when we see someone alone, they can hear everything else going on, whether it’s someone exercising, playing guitar, or working on the water system. Recurring onscreen graphic updates viewers on how long the mission has been going on and where the group’s morale level is, even though those updates are redundant.

The thing that stands out most during Red Heaven is the crew’s commitment to the mission. There’s a moment where Tristan is frank about his level of discomfort with the mission. He’s allowed to quit the mission, but he’s very aware of what that would mean for the data the study is meant to gather and how a selfish act like leaving would have major ramifications. In fact, everyone has remarkable awareness of the big picture, which can be so easy to lose sight of. Red Heaven’s toughest, and most empathetic, moment highlights Cyprien as he learns about the November 2015 terror attacks in his hometown of Paris. Viewers at home are five years removed from the attacks, but watching Cyprien struggle to find information about the attacks and check on his friends and family is such a specific and universal feeling that it’s the film’s most effective moment.

In the end, Red Heaven is an entertaining documentary that plays things fairly straightforward. It’s interesting, but not necessarily essential. For anyone interesting in the details of what it takes to prepare for interplanetary travel, Red Heaven is sure to satisfy. The results of the study are scheduled for publication in 2021. For everyone else, Red Heaven is a good reminder that no matter our goals, we’re at our best when we work together.

Note: Red Heaven is currently without distribution

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